The transformation of the small master economy in the boot and shoe industry 1887-1914 : with special reference to Northampton
The footwear industry is one of the important examples of late industrial transformation in nineteenth century Britain. The aim here is to investigate shoe manufacturers' reactions to this period of structural and organisational change. The thesis is in three parts:(I) Chapters One-Three explore the character and scope of industrialisation in the industry. The literature on British entrepreneurship, evaluates the shifts in attitude and strategy of dominant groups within each industry; much less attention has been given to the often wide divergence of experience within business communities as a whole. In small master-dominated industries, like shoemaking, there existed a range of business experience - both business success and failure - which has not been the subject of close empirical study. Here, the assumption of an orderly, progressive concentration of capital is challenged. The small shoe masters' role during industrialisation was more complex than the literature allows. Secondly, the chronology and determinants of change are reappraised. And, finally, the size, character and structure of the Northampton footwear business community is studied.(II) Chapters Four-Six take up this theme of business failure. Little previous systematic, empirical investigation of patterns of failure has been carried out by historians. Thus, initially, general issues of methodology and theory are broached. The data presented, not only allows failure trends to be analysed, but is also used to explore small masters' attitudes and reactions to change. Three facets of failure were isolated. Failure linked to business cycle effects (Chapter Four). The high endemic levels of failure linked to normal trading pressures with reference particularly to infant firms. Here questions of credit provision, failure causation and small master motivation are examined (Chapter Five), in addition to normal and hiatus failures amongst mature firms (Chapter Six). Lastly, failures linked to industrialisation are investigated (Chapter Six). There are two features: the contraction of the small master base and the failure of old established firms.(III) As a counterpoint to Section II, Chapters Seven and Eight study those firms that survive to 1914. These included a small, dominant elite group of established firms, whose industrial policies, family business organisation and striving for social acceptance are examined.